Photo: Ileana Johnson 2015
The first Americans I’ve met, Pam and her husband James from Chicago worked with my dad at the refinery. He was an engineer from a small family and she followed him to this God-forsaken country where everyone seemed to be a prisoner. They appeared friendly in a plastic way, smiling all the time for no apparent reason, totally unconcerned about the misery of the oppressed Romanians around them, barely surviving under communism.
The couple relished in their monthly shopping trips – it was their escape from the depressing life around them. They would fly to places in the West that were forbidden to us, Hungary, Austria, and Germany. She would come back each time with expensive gifts for herself and her family. She could not wait to return to the land of plenty, far from “this dirty, drab and awful country where nobody smiles.”
Insulated from reality, shopping at their special stores, treated by American doctors, Pam never really understood the pain and suffering white-washed by clean streets, summer flowers in well-manicured parks, and beautiful monuments erected to the dear leader. The long lines for food, she said, must have been because the cashiers were really slow and ineffective. Americans did not stand in line for anything except tickets for games and rock concerts.
John came for the opportunity to share his skills in a communist country and to meet new people. In our conversations in English (they never tried to learn Romanian), the word opportunity seemed to crop up all the time. I did not understand what opportunity meant because such a word did not translate exactly into our vocabulary and into our lives, literally and figuratively. You were born in the proletariat class and that is where you remained for the rest of your life, no chance at anything else. The communist elites had any opportunity they chose to take for themselves by force.
America is the land of opportunity where immigrants dream to find success through hard work and a lifestyle with a picket fence, a nice home, plenty of food, and a traditional family comprised of mother, father, and children. Nineteen-seventy America was still the land of opportunity where, if one worked hard, one could reach whatever he/she was willing to sacrifice in order to achieve their goals. But Christianity, God, faith, and family were at the center of a successful life.
There were no pedestrians in the southern town where I lived. Americans were trapped inside large metal gas guzzlers that drank gasoline like water. Nobody strolled outdoors except in the square downtown. If anyone saw you walk on the side of the road, since sidewalks did not exist except in large cities, they would stop and offer you a ride. It was done from a sense of pity as well as concern for your safety, walking in 90-degree oven-like heat coupled with unbearable humidity that kept everyone’s face looking young and shiny.
Many foreigners who dared or were allowed to travel to America came by boat as it was still much cheaper than flying. Once here, some took the Greyhound bus across the U.S. and others, like me, flew everywhere or crisscrossed the country by car or truck, seldom taking the train.
In a very small southern town of 3,000, church was the center of life for young and old. I counted over 100 churches stretching as far away as a ten mile radius in the county. Many youth trips, activities, and summer camps were sanctioned or sponsored by the church.
There was a drive-in theater, and one grocery store, locally owned and operated. The closest chain grocery store was over 60 miles away. A tiny mall with boutiques and a Sears store is where people bought their washers and dryers, TVs, lawn mowers, bikes, toys, Christmas gifts, and clothing. Fancier TVs could be purchased in a Curtis Mathis store. There was no Super Walmart, Target, or such retailers.
Some cross-roads had a small convenience store that the local farmers frequented for their daily necessities, milk, bananas, ice cream, and candy bars. Americans of all ages consumed, I thought, way too much sugar then. The owners knew everybody and, if they just came from the field and did not have their wallets, the items purchased were put on an account which the farmer could pay later.
There was a level of trust that I have never seen anywhere else – nobody needed a credit card. People did not dare write bad checks and credit cards were hard to obtain and seldom accepted. My Egyptian friend Lula remarked that we bought everything with checks, not cash. She did not understand the western concept of banking.
People dressed simply, the local seamstress made a good living with Simplicity patterns and fabrics purchased by the yard at Hancock’s Fabrics. She charged $20 to make a dress at a time when minimum wage was $3.10.
The local beauty shop was a wooden building on the side of an empty highway, no sign, every lady in the county knew where it was, just big enough for a couple of chairs, a sink, and the window air conditioner. A southern belle dressed in jeans and a country shirt did her hair on Friday for $10 and then went to the grocery store and bought the week’s $20 supply of food for the family. Americans could buy a lot of food for $20 in the seventies and still only spent about 15 percent of their income to fill their refrigerators.
I was mesmerized how homes in the middle of a pasture had running water and a septic tank. In my Romania at the time, country folks still had smelly and unsanitary out-houses.
Eating out was unheard of unless you counted going to the Rexall Drug counter for a soda float or getting a Mickey Mouse ice cream bar at Vaughn’s country store. The small town had a Sonic drive-in but no McDonalds and no pizza parlor.
Locals bought their blue jeans at Varney’s Department Store on the square and Elegant Ladies, each the size of a master bedroom today, or at the Co-op store where you could pretty much purchase anything you needed to run a farm, including the tough Wrangler jeans for $10.
If you were willing to drive over 60 miles to buy food in a chain grocery store, you could also shop in a real Sears or J.C. Penney store, today’s dinosaurs. Catalogs came in every year but ordering by phone and receiving packages in the mail took time and effort and the shipping and returns were costly. The post office was not conveniently located either. Walking in the heat and the unforgiving sun to retrieve packages or mail from the mailbox on the side of the country road, far away from any farm house, was a sweat-drenching proposition.
Homes were sprawling and comfortable, simply decorated, with A/C units in the windows or the occasional central air heating and cooling. Poorer folks lived in trailers who rocked, rattled, and shook during the frequent Tornado Alley storms that seemed to crack the sky in two with thunder and lightning. Powerful winds whipped and ripped old and venerable trees from the roots and occasional tornadoes demolished and flattened the forest, ripping anything else apart that stood in its path, and sending cows and humans flying through the air.
People dressed in their best for Wednesday and Sunday church services, followed by picnics and potluck suppers when everyone brought their best dishes to share with the congregation. And during football and baseball season, people attended the high school games and prayed before each game, cheering for the home team.
A stream of friends and acquaintances visited my in-laws to meet the Romanian girl who was lucky enough to escape Ceausescu’s communism while the Romanian was bewildered by all these well-meaning strangers who had no idea what kind of world she had left behind.
Without a myriad of TV channels of today, the drive-in was the only cinema that offered the latest movies. If your car broke down in the middle of the road, kind strangers stopped to help, change a tire, give you a lift home or to the nearest garage.
Cell phones did not exist in our bucolic lives and land lines were expensive. Many country folks had rotary dials with four parties on one phone line. You had to wait your turn to make a call or, in an emergency, ask the other parties to get off so that you can make the call. Everybody knew anybody else’s latest news and gossip as it was easy to listen in on conversations, intentionally or not.
Foreigners like me, an oddity from the communist world Americans despised, were a rarity in the South and Americans opened their homes to them but did not really accept them as part of their social milieu, they kept them at arm’s length and on the fringes because communists were not to be trusted. Yet foreigners like me learned the language and integrated into society, and became naturalized Americans who were contributing to its well-being and paid taxes.
Today’s Americans embrace communism and desire to change their society to that utopian failed state. They take in with open arms the real flotsam and jetsam of the third world who are often anti-Christian and unwilling to ever integrate into society, learn English, and assimilate. They are only interested in the generous welfare.
In the 70s, it was a shame to accept welfare. You had to be really down on your luck and prayed to improve quickly so you could get off welfare. There was shame and dishonor associated with accepting handouts. Today that shame is gone and it has morphed into an entitlement to everything other people own and had worked hard for.
The local high schools would invite foreign speakers who survived and escaped oppressive regimes to educate young Americans about the evils of totalitarianism/communism and how dear leaders like Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot, Castro, and Ceausescu have tortured and killed 100 million of their own people, citizens kept prisoners in their own countries and often starved to death.
After decades of telling teachers and students that one cannot mix Christian religion and state, the k-12 Common Core curriculum adopted is indoctrinating students into Islam and into sexual deviance. It is sad to watch today’s public schools, some private schools, and many colleges in the U.S. preach communism, intolerance of everyone who loves America, the pillars of Islam, and anti-Christianity even though many well-informed parents object.
And those who object to this indoctrination are labeled immediately – intolerant, xenophobic, sexist, homophobic, racist, bigoted, anti-Semitic, islamophobic, misogynist, or whatever “hate” label the Left has chosen for the rest of us who fell in love with 1970s America.
With a few areas here and there, small towns that did not have enough money or resources to accommodate the welfare-seeking invasion of illegal immigrants and government-allotted mostly male refugees, 1970s America is unrecognizable today. The rule of law and borders long forgotten, is the country still yours?
Say good-bye to what you grew up with and hello to 2018 America altered not by the normal change that the passage of time creates but a socially-engineered globalist entity spawned by the communist Left over the last five decades.